tv [untitled] December 24, 2012 10:00pm-10:30pm EST
it's something. well i'm tom hartman in washington d.c. and we have a special edition of the big picture for you tonight with two of our recent conversations with great minds start off that with a conversation i had earlier this month with christian freedom and our conversation we talked about how america's plutocrats the top of the one percenters rose to power and what can be done to lower those nations record high levels of income inequality so now my conversation with christopher hill.
the conversations with grape vines i'm joined by christian freeland christian is currently the editor of thomson reuters digital previously she was the global editor at large of reuters and the united states managing editor of the financial times she's also the author of the critically acclaimed book plutocrats the rise of the new global super rich and the fall of everyone else she joins me from our new york studios chris you're welcome great to be here and so nice to be a conversation with great minds well you know it's hard felt actually i measure i measure the quality of a book by how many pages i've dog eared marked up in your book is littered with posted notes and you start the book with the story of the party in new york city that was coincidentally at the at the kind of the peak of great riches among the
the the robber barons of the robber baron era and also at the tail end of the longest depression in american history two facts that i think most americans don't know can you tell us a story about that party and how and what its impact was. well this is the bradley martin ball and i'm glad that you're singling you know tom because i agree with you that the nineteenth century is not so far away but we've forgotten a lot about it here is what was really significant about it i think first of all that it came at the tail end of the long depression we think of the great depression as sort of the spinal gasps of this sort of a long run of nineteenth century sort of overly turbulent capitalist development but actually a period i think of even greater misery was this long depression in the nineteenth century a time when really you know the gears of industrialization started to grind very
painfully the bradley martin ball was i think a manifestation of some of that grinding. christian can you hear me. ok your mike has just died so i don't think you have to do anything but somebody in new york has to do something. and there it is back ok i can now i can continue i'm sorry i missed your last answer to ok sorry to everyone there so what i was saying is you know then as now you had in the nineteenth century in this period of the long depression you had a lot of losers from the very turbulent economic changes of that time hence long depression but at the same time then as now you had some people who were winning who were doing extremely well and they were doing so well that they decided really
kind of shocking when you think about how the country was doing to hold this six stream lee extravagant ball called the bradley martin ball it was the most fabulous most expensive entertainment america had ever seen now they argued that actually this was a good thing because they were going to stimulate consumption and spending spending on their own ball public opinion decided otherwise and the reaction was so hostile that the martens actually left the country and moved to their vast rented estate in scotland and this. was kind of a kicking off of the progressive era in many ways and a lot of legislation in changes in tax policy absolutely so it came at this moment you know when people and i find the parallels with today absolutely striking that on the one hand everyone could see that industrialized nation was tremendously
positive that machines were able to get a clings that it had taken hundreds of human beings to do before and you know all of a sudden the economy was. really getting going but at the same time as the long depression really showed people there was a lot of social and economic dislocation and to simply let the forces the capital ism sort of by themselves run things was not going to be sufficient and so really in the late mid to late nineteenth century americans and then there was a similar moment in europe people said wait a minute we like industrialisation we like miss chains we like modern industrial capitalism but we're going to have to make a very big social and political accommodation we are going to have to regulate we're going to have to rein things in we're going to have to empower the workers through unions and between unionization i mean back if it was eight hundred eighty
one wasn't it the sherman antitrust act was was introduced and the question is i've had a number of libertarians come on the program and they and that you say what's what would you like america to look like and they say well we did during the gilded age you know there are in the late eighty's eighteen eighty's and grover cleveland eight hundred eighty seven i think it is the state of the union address talked about the irony heel of corporate you know on the on the neck of the average worker this was a time of change. tyco and stanley cuz lousy among them i remembered his name right you know there's this this is a tory as party where is the modern day bradley ball where is the modern day version of that or has it not yet happened or is will it one of the parallels years well in my book you know the fancy party that i describe as the modern day equivalent is a party that was it was held to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of steve swartz and
the co-founder of the private equity group blackstone and that was also a fabulous party rod to. allegedly paid huge amounts of money to sing at the party etc and again you know that was held just before two thousand and eight before the financial crisis at the sort of the peak of the boom years and like the martens steve schwarzman suffered in terms of public opinion for it you know people people decided that you know he was the overly ostentatious face of this sort of turbo charged financial capitalism was it in your book that i read the p.p.t. or some was part of that organization yet the peterson is the co-founder so blackstone was co-founded by shorts man and peterson and and you know by the way like i think that both of them are very very able business men and i think they founded
a very very effective private equity firm i think that you know the fact that steve shortens party became symbolic of you know sort of the fabulous wealth generated in the torsen and blackstone and more about the phenomenon that i dwell on in my book i am of tremendous economic change and overall i'm in favor of globalization but i think we do need to pull back zero point one percent the zero the losers and the biggest losers are countries who are facing tremendous sustained down.
we would have been part. greater media consolidation well i agree with you tom sort of on two fronts first of all i think you're absolutely right to talk about reagan i think that you know the past thirty years which is the period when we have seen this extreme increase in income inequality you know my own view is it. chiefly by these very big economic transformations but hand in hand with those economic transformation has been a political revolution it has been you know a political revolution heralded by reagan and factor and that was
a revolution about deregulation about liberalization about privatized ation of the weakening unions about changing the culture around c.e.o. compensation all of those things came together and they exacerbated the impact especially on income distribution of these economic forces now i actually think that the financial crisis and obama's reelection in twenty twelve and what we're seeing in europe all are sort of coming together to amount to the very beginnings of a backlash of a is a standing back and certainly not denying is certainly not wanting to roll back the technology revolution or globalization but sort of standing back and saying you know wait a minute the reality is capitalism in the twenty first century in the western
industrialized is not working for the middle class and the statistics say that you know particularly in the united states middle class incomes have stagnated for the past decade think about that middle class has been treading water for ten years that's a long time and the economy has been growing a lot in that period so i think people are starting to think about all of this in new ways but what is really striking for me is how hard it is for the political discourse to shift because i think that we've sort of been trained not to sink in these sorts of structural terms we've been trained to think about the economy and about success or failure as just about us as personal you know should i retrain how do i build my career what sort of school should i send my kids to and it's been taboo to talk about class. economic distribution structure of the
economy and the with the with the great depression as it were and the great gilded age of the late nineteenth century that led to that progressive revolution in the nineteenth oughts but then in one nine hundred twenty the the the getting his name the present the guy who ran for president but his his slogan was more more business and government less government in business and. it is warren harding you know and so and you know you see at the heart inclusion hoover you know nine years of that led to the great crash are we the teddy roosevelt point and we're going to have to go through the harding coolidge hoover or are we at the maybe the beginning of the hoover point if we're drawing parallels here if we're trying to parallel i'm afraid i would say we're at the teddy roosevelt point i think that this is going to be a very very long political process and a long intellectual process you know i think that part of the difficulty that
progressives that liberals have in grappling with what's happening in the world economy right now is i think they are able to ask the questions but they don't have persuasive answers yet it's really striking to me the extent to which the liberal agenda the progressive agenda is really a rehashing of the one nine hundred fifty s. and i'm not saying i disagree with that and i'm certainly not saying i have something better to offer but when i look back on the historical experience what is very striking is the way the progressive came up with something entirely new well will add we'll dig deeper into that in just a moment more of tonight's conversations with great minds the christian freeling after the break.
i. talk about the conversations of the great minds of chrystia freeland bush is currently the editor of thomson reuters digital and author of the critically acclaimed book plutocrats the rise of the new global super rich and the fall of everyone else i have to add i am reading i am finding it absolutely amazing book. who is leon cooper and what does and you know and what does his story tell us or his opinion of president obama more specifically tell us about the very very rich i
believe cooperman is the founder of this successful billionaire founder of a hedge fund called omega and as a sort of part of the rollout of my book i wrote a profile of him for the new yorker i chose to tell these story because he. it was identified as he wrote a letter to the president which sort of went viral particularly among the super elite among the plutocrats in which he accused the president of waging class war and said that the president was hostile to capitalism hostile to the rich that that was an american and what was really interesting to me about this letter is the way that mr kuperman really emphasized his own story which is an impressive story he is the son of a plumber from the bronx and he rose first of all to be a partner in goldman sachs and then to found his hedge fund so his argument to the
president was you know i'm a self-made guy i came from the working class and you the president shouldn't be hostile to me you should celebrate the success of people like me and is one of the arguments made against this level of wealth that was made back in the in the thirty's and forty's to justify raising the top income tax rates in ninety one percent and arguably back in the in the teens as well was. there to a certain extent the economy is a zero sum game that the more the rich get richer somebody else is going to have to get poorer. was he first of all what are your thoughts on that and was he cognizant of that or rejecting that notion. what so first of all i actually personally don't think the economy is a zero sum game i think that it is possible and there have been times in economic
history when you know the country has grown together an era that is often cited is that post-war era and i think part of the reason that in the sort of collective national memory that era the fifty's the sixty's is based in such an off. felecia is if you look at the data it was a period when as one economist has put it america grew together so you can have a combination of you can how widely shared economic growth but i would agree with you tom that what we're seeing today the way we're seeing the economy work today is you know i see it as this coin with two very different sides the same economic forces that are driving the rise of the plutocrats including in particular you know a hedge fund billionaire like we could herman are also following out the middle class are driving down middle class wages and in answer to the second part of your
question no i certainly don't think that most of the plutocrats are willing to make that connection i think they still very much do believe partly because they want to believe in this idea of trickle down economics in this vision of themselves as we heard during the presidential election campaign as the job creators you know i'm curious did you ever sued the documentary client number nine about eliot spitzer. no i did not just the quick question he basically p.o.d. a billionaire who took him down you know arguably illegally and that's a documentary about that i'm curious if you've gotten any blowback if you're concerned. some billionaires may be out to get you. well certainly just to talk about eliot spitzer because i do think that you know he acted with a lot of brave worry and it's certainly the case that a lot of people on wall street including you know quite liberal people people who
have served in the cabinets of democratic presidents absolutely despise eliot spitzer so it's absolute the case there has been tremendous hostility there towards him in terms of me you know a few people have yelled at me have. i used words that were not so nice when i you know when i told my father about a few of the reactions my dad is a farmer in northern alberta and is quite you know a. he would i think himself call himself a redneck proudly and i told him he said all the tell me who that is you know i'm going to beat him up they can't talk to my daughter that way but you know on the other hand i have had some reactions which have surprised me in a positive way so there was one guy who i quote in my book of goldman sachs executives and he sent me an e-mail and it said plutocrats in the subject line and i was i don't know if you ever get those emails that you're scared to open so i was
kind of scared to open it but i did and he said actually that he found my book really interesting it had changed his perspective on things and he concluded by saying it made him want to move to sweden so i guess if the impact of my book can be to make goldman sachs partners feel like sweden has some things to recommend itself i'll be pleased that that sort of introspection though is probably rare i mean just in general it's where the but particularly in these circles it seems f. scott fitzgerald famously said you quote him in your book you know the. public paraphrasing a badly but the very rich are different from you and me from the rest of us. so he did say that and what's kind of interesting is the difference is not the one that fitzgerald identified in the rest of that quote he goes on to say essentially
i'm paraphrasing like you that the rich are different because they're born with money they're born rich and that changes them what's interesting and i think actually central to the self identity of today's super rich is not all of them but quite a lot of them are people like leon kuperman they are the working rich and they are at least to some degree self made now when i say self-made you know i don't want to lean on that too heavily if you wish to become a plutocrat it is wise to choose relatively affluent parents but you know they're self-made in the way of a mitt romney that yes you know ultimately grew up in a family that became extremely affluent but bain capital he didn't inherit he built it himself as the negroes so that's central to their identity but the other thing that's happening and i think this is a really big issue and a real problem in politics today is partly because of the globalized nature of the
economy the super rich today increasingly are becoming a community a tribe unto themselves this sort of global group of super rich who hang out with one another do business with one another stay in the same hotels around the world and have increasingly little to do with the communities back home you know i read the part of your book and what struck me when you were talking about how they had basically become a country under themselves you describe one one guy who had three passports three nations and he said i don't know what i'm nation of you know what. what struck me is that this almost sounds like a description of you know relates the second millennia. european aristocracy where all the royal families were cousins and nephews of each other and you know it seemed like there were nations and nation states but really there was a royal family. it that's that's an interesting parallel and i thought of that also
as as i was writing this and you know in that era it was even the case that this sort of european aristocracy very often spoke a different language from the national vernacular that the peasants spoke didn't couldn't even they can even understand the language in which the peasants spoke so yes i think there are some similarities i mean the big difference is that for now this sort of international country of the plutocrats is one into which they haven't been born it's one into which they've risen but something that i worry about today is we are seeing today we're living in a time of unprecedented concentration of wealth at the very very top what happens as time goes on and that wealth passes through the generations are we going to move into a sort of more aristocratic hereditary elite i think that's quite possible and
particularly now when an elite education is so important for success in the world and yet education is such a financial burden on the middle class you know even you know from the time you start going to kindergarten that class divisions starts to shape your life it's like we're moving back to the fifteenth century so what what do we do is there going to be a new renaissance or a new and what rome well i think what we should do and what i hope we will do is have you know a new progressive era but it does have to be new and we have to people who are worried about this have to come up with some new ideas. we started our conversation tom by talking about the parallels with the nineteenth century in the industrial revolution and i talked about that a lot with economists in doing the research for my book and some of them would say well you know we should be reassured by those parallels because after all did the
industrial revolution turn out to be a good thing and everything settled down and my response to that is to say yes it did but let's think about what it took to get to that settle down period it took two world wars to depressions the long depression and the great depression communist revolution in russia and in china and those i think were actually essential in the political accommodation in north america and western europe so it was incredibly turbulent incredibly violent incredibly costly actually in human life i think we need to buckle our seat belts and start figuring things out that's an extraordinary analysis christopher hill on a brilliant book you have written thank you so much for joining us tonight my pleasure. pleasure and honor to be with you to see this in other conversations with great minds go to our web site of conversations with great minds are.